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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Relocation, Resistance, Acceptance.


As I get older, it often feels as if life moves faster than ever, but I'm not sure I agree. Life can move more slowly, when I pay attention. Paying attention then becomes a form of love, listening, and even reverence to myself and others. I even believe time can be altered by allowing it to pass with mindful curiosity instead of scarcity or through resistance. 

If I pay close attention, I usually know if and when, intuitively, I am ready for those monumental changes in life and can embrace them rather than thwart them. The biggest shift happens when I begin to recognize and remove the unnecessary and attend to what I value most. By allowing, it weaves itself into the most profound part of my life's story. It moves from being a tool to cope to a part of the process of daily life. Mindfulness, like breathing or Yoga, then becomes both conscious (how I act) and unconscious (how I react under stress) with practice.
 
These past few months, I have been able to put the practice of paying attention to the test with a big life decision. 
 
It is with some sadness mixed with joyful anticipation, that I share with you that I will be relocating to Calgary, Canada in September of this year. This move, like my last move from Houston to Malaysia, is prompted by my ex-husband’s job transfer and our desire to continue to co-parent our 2 boys, now 9 and 14. The boys assisted in our choice of when to move - and wisely, my eldest choose to move at the start of a term rather than mid-term. Which means, I will make a few extra trips back to Asia in October and November to fulfill commitments I have made. This move happily puts us closer to the US, our family and friends. 

In just a few days, we will offer the first free Caregiver’s Wellness Retreat in Houston, Texas. I am also excited to share in teachings, both Restorative Yoga and AcroYoga with the Texas Yoga Communities in Houston, The Woodlands, Nacogdoches, and Bryan-College Station in the month of June. July 17-19, I’m honored to be leading an AcroYoga session at True Nature Yoga Festival in the gorgeous Hood River, Oregon. August brings me back to Asia, with teachings in Singapore, Chiang Mai and Kuala Lumpur. Email now, if you’d like to book a session in one of these cities. 
 
While I feel vulnerable and not at all mindful at times when the layers of life become to heavy, the gratitude that I have for such a supportive Yoga community and friends to share that humanness with is overwhelming. I was comforted with this quote this week, as one of our young volunteers for the caregiver’s retreat was killed by a drunk driver: "You will lose everything you love, and it will return to you in new forms.” 
 
Whatever it is you have been going through this past week or year that feels like a loss, will often reveal itself in an entirely new form somewhere else in your life. I don’t know about you, but I am expectantly looking for that bloom to rise out of soil. I believe it will. 
 
Thank you for encouraging me along this wild and wonderful journey. It’s an honor to have you along this path.
 
With joy and love, 
 
Melissa 

Join me in Texas during the month of June. Complete schedule is here.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Meditation Revelations and Diving into the Fear.

Sitting in meditation. Drawing on the awareness of breath. I feel my heart beating in my ears. The pulsation keeps my attention from wandering about. Then a wave of fatigue washes over me and my whole body jolts as I realize I am nodding to sleep.
I become alert again. My focus more sharp, as I am determined to allow these thoughts of inadequacy as a mother, friend and teacher to wash over me and then pass. I am reminded as we finish our quiet meditation that I am just like the woman on my right as she shares a secret with me.
She is afraid to start teaching yoga and doesn’t know how to release feelings of inadequacy. She thinks she’ll appear a fraud. I silently nod, unable to offer more than a reassuring smile. My eyes sting with tears as I not only understand but feel the sameness of us all.
When I first started teaching, I thought surely someone would sniff me out as a faker. A poser. Was I really a yogi? Did I know enough to lead people through yoga? Certainly, I did not. But, thankfully I came to realize you teach from what you know as authentically as you can.
Show them not the shiniest version of yourself but the real version that can’t get into lotus pose or nail a handstand in the middle of the room. The one who doesn’t always say the right thing or be the best daughter. One who often serves her kids plain noodles for dinner because she forget to go to the store, again. The one who would rather have a longer savasana than a longer, sweaty class. The one who feels humbled by the nervous excitement of having another teacher take her class. The one who occationally nods off in meditation.
“Be. Just be,” I tell her as we hug one another.
With change and challenge, fear will come along for the ride. It’s in the diving into rather than avoiding it, that we find new elements of our own strength. We are capable of great things often hidden from us until just the right time. Turning into my fears rather than avoiding them, cultivates acceptance and brings me to the contentment I seek.
These days I’m more keen to let the warp speedy world fly past me. I feel it moving at a dizzying pace. Just thinking about keeping up makes feel like I’m on the Tilt-A-World at an amusement park waiting for the bottom to drop while my back sticks to the metal wall. I become nauseous just thinking about it.
Most days I’d rather sit and be still. No longer jumping through others’ hoops or qualifications, I seek to make progress in my own timing through experience. I find so much peace in just keeping step with myself day by day- pose by pose- listening and growing because I desire it rather than because it’s expected of me.
Amazing that a sleepy mindfulness meditation unveiled to me that all things are perfect in their own way.
That is perfect. This is perfect. 
When Perfection is taken from the Perfect, 
Perfect alone remains.
~ Shri Shankaracharya
melissa smith2-800
Melissa Smith, Yoga Alliance ERYT® 500 in yoga therapeutics; Yoga Teacher Trainer with Holistic Yoga Teacher Training, Jaya Yoga Teacher Training and Yogshakti Teacher Training; Thai Yoga Massage and Level 2 AcroYoga® certified Teacher. Native Texan, Melissa currently lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with her 2 sons and leads Love and Service Retreats in Thailand, Bali, France, Malaysia and Texas. Join her for a Restorative and Yoga Therapy Teacher Training, November 2016, Koh Samui, Thailand. MelissaSmithYoga.com
Article Published on InTheLoopSingapore

Sunday, March 29, 2015

yoga and depression

With all the hullabaloo surrounding international yoga teacher Hemalayaa​'s (now removed) admittedly insensitive blog post about depression and her strong feelings against anti-depressants. It's been a great platform for all of us (yoga teachers) to create awareness and dive deeper into what depression is, the treatment options for it, and how to show empathy for those who have it. If we can take away the stigma, that would be a huge step forward in helping those who suffer. There is a lot of shame associated with depression because they are often told that they should just deal with it or just change at will. Speaking as someone who has been affected by it myself, it's simply not possible to will yourself to change. It required very deliberate decisions to heal and become whole again. 


"It’s not news that depression has become a kind of invisible epidemic, afflicting millions of people. We live at a time when depression is approached as a disease. That has a good side. Depressed people are not judged against as weak or self-indulgent, as if they only need to try harder to lift themselves out of their sadness. Yet depression, for all the publicity surrounding it, remains mysterious, and those who suffer from it tend to hide their condition – the medical model hasn’t removed a sense of shame. When you’re in the throes of depression, it’s hard to escape the feeling that you are a failure and that the future is hopeless." ~ Deepak Chopra

In my own experience, depression felt like being enveloped in a darkened cave over an extended period of time, and I'm unable to see the exit. I know it's there but any amount of searching in the dark was fruitless and found me bumping into walls and doors causing invisible scars in my mind.  

Watch this video, and you will have a glimpse of what a my body image of myself was like. Truly horrifying to hear out loud the amount of unworthiness that played into my head for so many years. 




"Depression isn’t one disorder, and even though an array of antidepressants have been thrown at the problem, the basic cause for depression remains unknown. For a diagnosis of major depression, which is more serious than mild to moderate depression, at least five of the following symptoms must be present during the same 2-week period. 
  • Depressed mood (feeling sad or empty; being tearful)
  • Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities
  • Significant weight loss when not dieting, or weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too little or too much)
  • Slowing of thoughts and physical movements
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness
  • Recurrent thoughts of death (not just fear of dying), recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or specific plan for committing suicide" *

While for some it's a pure chemical imbalance that only drugs can help with, others have found relief through tools like yoga, counseling, changes in lifestyle or work to reduce stress, cutting out destructive relationships, nutrition, a passion (some kind of exercise or art or whatever makes you come alive), mindfulness, etc. 

Personally, in my own struggle with depression over the years, it's been a combination of yoga, sunshine, counseling, journaling, moving my body with breath awareness in some way every day, spirituality/meditation and connection that have helped me overcome the worst of it. I am someone who needs to be with and enjoys people, specifically teaching and sharing my love for yoga. 

As independent as I am, I have come to realize I am not a Lone Ranger or Super Woman. It took years to let go of that. I cannot do it all on my own. In addition, I am just re-learning how to date myself and truly love who I am. It's a life-long process to let go of old habits and internal dialog of inadequacy, co-dependence, and unworthiness. 

I think the most beautiful thing we can offer those who suffer from it is consistent, compassionate presence, not our strong opinions. To be told how to live or what to do to "fix it" is usually not helpful. To know that I am cared for and have support is huge. Offering a listening ear and compassion, now that's powerful. Having a network of friends who will check in can also been a lifeline. 

There was a time during the early stages of my divorce, that I felt abandoned by a certain group of friends and loved ones. I think people didn't know what to say or how to behave and frankly, I think everyone's just so busy with their own problems to remember to check on someone who seemingly disappeared from social life. When someone is depressed, they just don't have the ability to reach out or call you or go to dinner, let alone eat. As a friend, knowing this can be so helpful. Even something as simple as a call or an email letting them know you care with no expectation of a reply means a lot. 
"May there be kindness in your gaze when you look within." ~ John O'Donohue
I believe yoga heals. However, I feel it takes a holistic approach to wellness and healing through mind, body and spirit whether you suffer from depression, addiction, PTSD or any kind of injury or illness. 

May we all learn from this at the very least to become more active nonjudgmental listeners, consistent friends and loving to all. Let's regard one another with beauty and reverence and begin to learn to gaze upon ourselves with a sacred awe. 




*article on depression by Deepak Chopra

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Giving Tree

"Whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. What is soft is strong." – Lao Tzu

When I was growing up, I had a willow tree in my big Texas back yard. It's branches were more like vines which I would grasp and swing on. Afterward, I would lie in the shade and allow the tips of the green leaves to brush my face. I loved this tree so much that when I discovered "my tree" was in the beloved book, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, I checked it out from the library and absentmindedly never returned it.




When my own son was born, I began to read the book to him. In life, I tell him, we want to be like that tree. Strong and not blown over or distracted by every shiny object that comes our way. The roots and trunk give it stability, it's branches flexibility and the leaves mobility. And, in all ways, we should strive to be adaptable to the seasons of our life.

The tree never protested but always gave. I wonder if I did a little less stomping of my feet and demanding that the trees in my life give me more and more, I would be more calm. What strikes me most about a tree is there is no protest. There is only acceptance, adaptation to the changes in the environment, and largely integration.

Have you ever seen how when another plant (or object) comes in contact with a tree, it will just grow around it or become part of the tree? All of this happens over time. Not today, not tomorrow but with time.

What if we looked at the events in our life with a long lens. It's the difference between pushing our life and yielding to it. There is grace and strength in the yielding.



Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The ability to call on courage.

I’ve thought a lot lately about the word courage. Courage is defined as the ability to confront fear, pain, or uncertainty.
 
Son #2 didn’t want to do a blood test this week and threw a huge fuss that had him frozen in fear. Even though chemo is over (thank God) for now, he just wasn’t sure what the nurses were doing, how long it would take, or if it would hurt. I reassured him before hand, but it was the experience of it that no words could soothe. It showed me how the fear of the unknown can paralyze, numb or make us bob up and down in a place of indecision. 
 
I don’t know about you but the last time I threw a fit like he did was…. yesterday. Yoga mom had to walk out of the hospital room for a few minutes to collect herself and figure out a way to communicate that calmed him, rather than making him feel more threatened. (Parenting and anger. That’s another topic all together. Please tell me I’m not alone here! I feel a bit like George in Seinfeld yelling, “serenity now!” Then, I remember to do what I tell my kids to do, just breathe.)
 
I’m not sure it matters how we tackle that fear or uncertainty, actually. Perhaps just allowing ourselves to wholeheartedly acknowledge and face it time and time again is what makes someone courageous. 
 
"I always thought courage was some kind of characteristic. I'd see people doing brave things and think "Well, they just simply have more courage than I do." But I now know that's not really true. The truth is that they call on their courage more than I call on mine. So it's not the courage one must develop, it's the calling. The ability to call. Anyone can practice this thing called calling." ~ Steve Chandler
 
There are so many that I know in my life who exhibit courage. A friend, uncomfortable in her own body, tried yoga for the first time and came back to try it again. My Dad, a 10 year caregiver to his wife with Alzheimer's, comes to mind. And, of course son #2. They’ve shown me how to practice the calling of courage.
 
Whether it’s something as life altering as chemo or simply having to start a new challenging project or even having to "speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences”, if we just begin, and know it will eventually end (everything does), then we can call upon the courage to face it. Personally, when I acknowledge that fear within me and choose not to run or hide from it, I am a little stronger and more able to uncover the robust potential of love underneath.
 
I appreciate what Brené Brown has to say about courage: 
 
“Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor - the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant "To speak one's mind by telling all one's heart." Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences -- good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as 'ordinary courage.'"
I hope that whatever it is you’re facing this week that you find the calling and step out with ordinary courage. You don’t have to defeat your fears — you just have to dig into a part of yourself that has always been there and allow love (of yourself) to be a little stronger than the fear. Love, I’ve found, is really the absence of fear.
Wishing you a beautiful weekend. May Valentine’s (whether you celebrate or not) be a reminder to return to loving and being more gentle with yourself. 
 
In love and joy, 
 
Melissa 

*From my latest newsletter. To sign up click here.

Caregiver’s Wellness Retreat
For the Caregivers of Alzheimer’s: Caregiver’s Retreat near Houston, Texas, June 7th. Tools for wellness, it's free event with application. Read more here about the event and why over 20 yoga teachers and volunteers are inspired to make a difference. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

on love, compassion and courage.

It's a pretty vast cavern. That sometimes scary, sometimes euphoric space we navigate around love.

The more we love, the more courage is required. Where to gather this courage? Don't know, really. It usually arrives when I show up without agenda, compassionately.

The ability to hold love and pain together in the same moment; that is the incarnation of compassion.

Once I exhibit the courage to investigate without calculating expectations, I believe that's where I find tenderness and clarity.


I nudge forward.

Moving forward doesn't change the past or lessen my experiences. I now understand don't have to let go to grow. 

I can choose to un-dwell and view things from a sharper lens. Learning to tether my heart to myself, I am becoming steady and immovable within.

Realizing the greatest love affair of life is embracing mySelf with all it's wrinkles, crinkles, smiles, tears, joy, and pain. All of it.



And, just like that, not magically, but with consistent mindful effort, I know love is invariably worth the risk.


"I have learned not to worry about love; but to honor its coming with all my heart."~Alice Walker


MelissaSmithYoga.com and daily posts here





Monday, February 16, 2015

On Grief and Love stepping into bless us

One of my dearest friends lost her father recently and shared this quote below. Grief and death just isn't talked about much among my peers-- words of comfort or advice is usually given. Truly, until we have walked in someone else's shoes, we simply don't know everything they have been through. Any kind of loss: a loved one, a job, a marriage, a pet... brings grief, and it's process.

I'm always amazed when another layer of grief stops by to hold my hand again. This was comforting today:
"We can awaken while dying but we can also awaken while cleaning the cat sand. Perhaps the most deeply held justification we have for delaying our complete awakening is our belief that death is somehow transformational, or that our efforts to live a good life will be rewarded at that time....But what sense would it make for Love to wait for our organs to fail before stepping into bless us? It doesn't matter whether you view reported "near death experiences" scientifically or mystically, now continues to be the only time you can know God. And awareness of God is infinitely rewarding. The ego doesn't fade away merely because the body dies, and the eternal doesn't become more present after death. Why would it? Don't put off heaven. It surrounds you this very instant."~ Hugh Prather..Spiritual Notes to Myself.

"Practice dying means living as close to reality as we can in each moment. It is the ultimate bravery." This is from an earlier blog post on dying and includes a meditation that allowed me to draw awareness to releasing my fears of change that I tend to cling to.